Japan kicked off their World Cup campaign in style with an impressive 2-1 victory over Colombia in the Group H opener. Goals from Shinji Kagawa and Yuya Osako were enough to cancel out Juan Quintero's goal and set Japan on their way with all three points.
In such a highly contested group, Japan's win will be crucial to their hopes of qualifying. Colombia's emergence as dark horses prior to the tournament made them favourites to win Group H, but an opening game defeat creates even more drama and changes the dynamic of the group.
Sanchez sees red
Colombia, who set the 2014 World Cup alight, began their 2018 campaign in dismal fashion as midfielder Carlos Sanchez earned the 2018 World Cup's first red card just three minutes in. An early attack by Japan forced David Ospina into a good save, before Shinji Kagawa's rebound was thwarted by the outstretched arm of Carlos Sanchez. After a quick VAR check, the Colombian was judged to have deliberately handled the shot inside the box, resulting in a penalty and a red card. Kagawa stepped up just six minutes in and calmly buried his penalty past Ospina to make it 1-0.
Colombia went in search of an answer, despite being down a man, and Radamel Falcao forced Eiji Kawashima into a save with 12 minutes gone. Japan continued to push in an effort to put the game out of reach and almost did just that as Takashi Inui took on Kagawa's pass, but the winger could only fire wide of the post.
Despite Japanese efforts, Colombia would grab an equaliser just before the break. With no James Rodriguez in the starting lineup, Juan Quintero was on set piece duty and made no mistake with five minutes remaining in the half. Quintero's free kick was hit low and hard under the wall, catching Kawashima by surprise and the Colombian's effort just creeped over the line.
Even with the early red card, Colombia had done well to hold off the Japanese wave of attacks and get back into the game before the break.
Osako rises highest
After half-time, Japan continued to control the game and went close to regaining the lead in the 56th minute. Yuya Osako, who was a threat all afternoon, hit a curling strike towards the far corner, but Ospina was on hand to push the effort away. In an effort to improve their possession, Colombia brought on James Rodriguez in the second half, but Japan continued to dominate proceedings and were rewarded with 17 minutes remaining.
Substitute Keisuke Honda whipped his corner in and found Yuya Osako, who rose above Santiago Arias and flicked a header in off the post. Osako's header proved to be the winner as Japan held on for a huge win in their Group H opener. Colombia on the other hand, will desperately need a better performance in their remaining two games in order to qualify.
Japan will look to build on their win as they take on Senegal in their next game, while Colombia hope to bounce back and make the group interesting as they face Poland.